Essential California: The recall campaign trail’s wild week

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox and a bear in front of a bus
Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox launched his “Beauty or the Beast” campaign tour in Sacramento, accompanied by Tag, a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear, on May 4, 2021.
(Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, May 7. I’m Shelby Grad.

It’s been a surreal week on the recall campaign trail. A week where the biggest star was a bear from Alaska, along with the term “pretty boy” and tales of woe from private jet hangars.

The Times’ Maria La Ganga wrote about the high-profile candidacy of reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner:


She and her campaign staff are struggling to move beyond the OMG phase of her candidacy — OMG, another celebrity politician! OMG, a transgender woman running for office! They want to talk policy, hash out the big problems facing this big state and tell voters how the candidate would work to solve them.

In the 2003 recall, with 135 gubernatorial hopefuls of varying fame, only Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to hitch celebrity to substance with any success. And that’s because the former Mr. Universe/Conan/Terminator had spent the previous year campaigning statewide for Proposition 49, a measure to increase funding for before- and after-school programs. It was his first political success.

“The four candidates who ended up with more than 1% of the vote [in the 2003 recall] all had some involvement in the statewide election the year before,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Caitlyn Jenner and Sean Hannity
In this image provided by Fox News Channel, Caitlyn Jenner is interviewed by Fox News host Sean Hannity.
(Fox News Channel via Associated Press)

Meanwhile, we asked Times reporter Phil Willon, who actually met the bear, to assess the last few days:

Q: Tuesday was wild. What happened?

Republican John Cox tried to kick-start his gubernatorial campaign in, well, a wild and woolly way. Cox hired a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear named Tag, who hails from a ranch in Frazier Park, to be the mascot of his “Meet the Beast” campaign tour and ad campaign. Cox, during a news conference in Sacramento, billed himself as the beast versus “pretty boy” Gov. Gavin Newsom. But it was Tag who stole the show. The massive bear lumbered around behind Cox as the politician spoke, feasting on chicken meat and cookies.

Q: What is Newsom up to?

During a week when Cox paraded around with his bear bro, and Caitlyn Jenner appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show in an interview recorded inside her private airplane hangar, Newsom stuck to the low-key basics. The Democratic governor graciously accepted the endorsement of the California Professional Firefighters in Sacramento on Tuesday, and he acknowledged that not everyone who signed the petition supporting the recall was a far-right activist. Independents and some Democrats signed on as well. “So, my job is to earn that trust back,” Newsom said.

— Schwarzenegger has more to say about a lot of things. (New York Times)

— Not a great week for Republicans. (Washington Post)

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department routinely refuses to identify deputies who fire weapons, a practice that runs counter to a ruling by California’s Supreme Court. The Times found the Sheriff’s Department is an outlier among other large police departments in the important act of transparency. (Los Angeles Times)

Plus: L.A.’s new district attorney on some of his more controversial policies. (LAist)

Daft Punk sampled Eddie Johns’ “More Spell on You” on its hit “One More Time.” Johns, who has struggled with homelessness, was never paid or credited. (This story is exclusive to Los Angeles Times subscribers.)

Eddie Johns
Eddie Johns, whose “More Spell on You” was sampled on Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” at his supportive housing facility in Pico-Union.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Sanitation workers collected more than 35 tons of trash while cleaning the closed Echo Park Lake, which a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles parks department said the city is hoping to reopen by the end of the month. This comes more than a month after police cleared a homeless encampment of more than 170 tents from the park amid large protests by activists in the community. (Los Angeles Times)

Two months after committing to “transformational change,” members of the embattled Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the tiny but powerful group of international journalists that hands out the Golden Globe Awards, voted Thursday to move forward with sweeping reforms proposed by its board this week. (Los Angeles Times)

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Young Latino and Black people have the lowest rate of COVID-19 vaccination among any age, racial and ethnic group in Los Angeles County — and officials say they need to do more to make the shots easy and convenient for more people. (Los Angeles Times)

Officials in Orange County and elsewhere in California are preparing to close a number of COVID-19 mass vaccination sites as bookings for appointments continue to drop dramatically and authorities look to shift doses to mobile vaccine clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices. (Los Angeles Times)

The anti-mask movement is gaining new steam in the Inland Empire. (Press-Enterprise)


A California stop for cyclists? State lawmakers are considering a plan that would allow cyclists to roll through stop signs. (Sacramento Bee)

The owner of a San Joaquin County bar was arrested and charged this week with selling fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards. (Los Angeles Times)

For more than 20 years, San Diego County has barred its 18 federally recognized tribes from expanding their reservations, a reaction prompted by concerns over a sudden surge of casino construction. Now, that is changing in a history-making move. (San Diego Union-Tribune)


Conservationists in California and across the West are deeply skeptical of hydropower, and it’s not hard to see why, But should we be giving this another look? (Los Angeles Times)

Why the purple super bloom at Lake Folsom is such a troubling indication for the California drought. (San Francisco Chronicle)


The urban planner from the Bay Area who became a celebrity on TikTok by explaining our surroundings. (Mercury News)

An “almost mythical” comedy writer who gets little attention speaks out. Including about the best episode of “The Simpsons.” “I’ll let the TV historians debate that. I will say that I’ve always thought Season 3 was our best individual season.” (The New Yorker)

How the idea for a federal-funding writing program born in L.A. is now a serious thing. (Los Angeles Times)

Elon Musk might really, actually, honestly be going to Mars. (The Atlantic)

Restoring the Latino connections to tiki culture, one drink at a time, in Long Beach. (L.A. Taco)

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Los Angeles: Partly cloudy, 72. San Diego: Mostly sunny, 67. San Francisco: Sunny, 67. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 72. Fresno: Sunny, 84. Sacramento: Sunny, 83.


Today’s California memory comes from Denise Piscitello:

In 1954, when I was 6, my Dad was a linotype operator in a printing company on Georgia Street in Los Angeles. They often did work for the L.A. Times. The Los Angeles Convention Center now sits on top of that street! My Dad would bring me to work with him on Saturdays, so my Mom could have a little break, with my baby brother! I still remember what joy and excitement I felt being with my Dad, riding on the Red Line and Angels Flight!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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